10 storylines no one could have predicted

July 6th, 2022

Over the course of a baseball season, the abnormal inevitably becomes normalized. The highly unlikely becomes assumed fact.

As we reach the midway point of the season, there are all sorts of things that we accept as the natural state of things that absolutely no one could have seen coming heading into the season. A half season can change a lot. These 10 things all would have been shocking before the year began. Now they’re just the way things are.

1. The Mets haven’t had a fully healthy Jacob deGrom or Max Scherzer yet ... and they’re still one of the best teams in baseball.
Heading into the year, even Mets skeptics had to admit that if they had deGrom and Scherzer healthy, they’d be a formidable opponent. But when deGrom went down before the season began, and then Scherzer hit the injured list six weeks later, the presumption was that the Mets would fall apart. But it hasn’t happened. The Mets have gotten surprisingly impressive pitching from the likes of Taijuan Walker and David Peterson, but the delight has been the solid top-to-bottom lineup, led by MVP candidate Pete Alonso. The Mets have just had good vibes since the year began … and now they’ve got Scherzer back and deGrom (hopefully) soon to follow.

2. Oh, the Yankees might be one of the best teams of all time.
There were some rather foolish people who picked the Yankees third in the AL East and had them winning 86 games. (The Yankees would have to go 28-53 the rest of the way to get that record. Which seems … unlikely.) But even the most ardent Yankees fanatic couldn’t have seen this coming. The Yankees have scored the most runs in baseball and have given up the fewest runs in baseball, a nearly impossible combination. They’re on pace for 116 wins, they’ve got a guy who might hit more than 60 homers and absolutely everything has fallen right for them the entire year. Yankees fans demanded no less than the team’s first World Series appearance in 13 years heading into the year. They might just get the franchise’s best team in decades.

3. Hey, the Astros upgraded at shortstop.
Much of the drama of the Astros offseason revolved around Carlos Correa, whether they’d sign him, what they’d do without him if they didn’t. This drama intensified when Correa signed with the Twins because, well, the Twins? But while Correa is having a perfectly fine season with the Twins -- and he’s on a tear lately -- the Astros have a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate in Jeremy Peña. They knew he could play defense, but his offense has been a revelation, helping the Astros to the second-best record in the American League. (And a clear inside track to a first-round playoff bye.)

4. The Padres would lose Fernando Tatis Jr. and be … better?
Speaking of teams that have been missing a superstar shortstop … Tatis is the sort of generational talent around whom you build a whole franchise -- and generally it all collapses when he’s unexpectedly pulled away. Tatis still isn’t back from his fractured wrist, but the Padres have soared without him, thanks in large part to an MVP-caliber season from Manny Machado, a resurgent rotation and terrific defensive play at shortstop from Ha-Seong Kim, who’s playing so well there that Tatis might return in the second half to play … center field. The Padres only recently fell off the Dodgers’ torrid pace, but they’re well positioned for the playoffs, when Tatis will be surrounded by more talent than anyone had realized.

5. The White Sox are under .500.
Because of the weakness of the AL Central and the strength of the White Sox roster, the South Siders were widely considered one of your best American League bets: Maybe they’d struggle in the playoffs against the AL East juggernauts, but their path to the postseason was clear. But the White Sox were absolutely ravaged by injuries from the season’s beginning, and a bunch of their key players haven’t quite hit their strides, notably Lucas Giolito and Luis Robert. The good news is that they are still in third place, and the season is far from over: Fangraphs still gives them nearly 50 percent odds at making the playoffs. But that smooth ride to the postseason? That’s now a distant memory.

6. Luis Arraez is the new Wade Boggs.
Arraez has always been a high-average, low-strikeout player, the sort of guy you rarely see in baseball anymore. But this was the year where Ichiro and Rod Carew came out and said he’s their favorite current player. Arraez is having a Boggs-esque season, hitting .346 and putting up a .419 OBP, both the highest marks in the American League, and he has the Twins in first place. Arraez is a throwback in the purest sense, but right now, he’s basically having a 1991 MVP season.

7. The Cardinals would have three of the best position players in baseball … and still be three games out of first place.
The Cardinals have actually had a lot of things fall their way: The Brewers have been ravaged by injuries, the Cubs have been worse than even many expected, and they’ve gotten career years from MVP clubhouse leader Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado and Tommy Edman. (According to Baseball Reference’s version of WAR, those are the three top position players in baseball this year. Those three! All on the same team!) Despite all that -- and thanks largely to some inconsistent hitting elsewhere, a few injuries and, mostly, an extremely wobbly starting rotation -- the Cardinals are in second place, three games behind the Brewers and right there with the Phillies for the final playoff spot in the National League. Simple gravity suggests those three stars will regress a little in the second half. So what happens then?

8. Juan Soto is batting .226.
OK, sure, fine, he’s still leading MLB in walks, and he’s obviously a very valuable player. But still. In what universe is Juan Soto -- the next Ted Williams! -- batting .226? He’s typically a better second-half player, but this guy batted .351 during the shortened 2020 season and .313 last year. Here’s a stat: He has fewer RBIs (33) in his first 81 games than he did in his 47 games of the 2020 season (37).

9. Kris Bryant has one homer. ONE!
Fans had been wondering for years what a player with the pure power of Bryant would do at Coors Field, and for all the debate surrounding his huge contract with Colorado, there was still excitement about what he’d look like in Denver. Well, it took until the Rockies' 81st game -- halfway through the first season of his seven-year contract -- for him to hit his first homer. (And then it came on the road, at Dodger Stadium.) Yes, he has been hurt much of the year, but it still took until his 102nd plate appearance. Seems like it shouldn't have taken that long, right?

10. Shohei Ohtani is arguably even better this year … yet the Angels are somehow a little worse.
To be sure, Ohtani’s batting numbers are down slightly from last year (158 OPS+ last year, compared to 139 this year), if only a little and only because of a slow start. But his pitching has been legitimately better (149 ERA+ this year compared to 141 a year ago), and he has been downright dominant of late, giving up just one earned run in his last four starts totaling 26 2/3 innings. Over the last month, he has been one of the best 10 hitters in baseball and one of the best 10 pitchers. Oh, and Mike Trout’s still healthy. Oh, and Taylor Ward has been a breakout offensive force. Oh, and Patrick Sandoval and Noah Syndergaard have been reliable starters. And yet … the Angels have already fired their manager and have a worse winning percentage than last year.